The Revolution is Not Being Televised

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Jazz Meets the Internet, a Personal Journey
By Gustaf Fjelstrom

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The Internet is the fastest growing phenomenon in the history of mankind. In less than a decade, it has gone from a concept to an obsession. For jazz, Net activity is burgeoning, dramatically.

The Net’s development shares the democratic and egalitarian nature of the telephone system but also the richness and one-in-many potential of print, radio, and television. It has already affected millions of lives and will radically change the way people live in the 21st century. There are growing pains, of course, as there are with any life-changing technology.

As an information vehicle, a Web site is mandatory for musicians, presenters, and record labels. As a distribution medium, it’s manna from heaven. Visit an online CD store to purchase any jazz recording in print and have it delivered to your front door in a few days.

For those who seek immediate gratification, there’s the digital distribution of music, which is now a reality as well, transferring music directly from a Web site to the computer on your desk. Within a decade, a facile, transportable utilization of this point-to-point technology will become the principal means of music distribution.

This “eliminate the middle man” concept has some rather dramatic implications. What will happen to the present configuration of the jazz industry when musicians can easily distribute their recordings directly to listeners, worldwide, along with broadcasting pay-per-view performances and archiving them for later retrieval? The conditions for such a revolution are already in place.

The Net’s most ubiquitous component, e-mail, has already impacted person-to-person communication. Remember letters? An e-mail is so much easier with fewer words, no messy stamps, and almost instant delivery anywhere on the planet. But what if, on January 1, 2000, the Y2K bug kicks in and takes down the Net, and the entire economic infrastructure as well, for a couple of weeks or more? Another once impossible now probable scenario—within a few years; rather than using pagers or cellular phones, a tiny brain chip implant will allow for a perpetual connection. How did we get here, anyway?

Prelude

Two life-changing events occurred the first weekend of March in ’84—the birth of my daughter, Leila, and the arrival of an Apple 2e on my desk. The computer came with something called a modem and the salesman was very enthusiastic about its “telecommunications” capabilities.

“But I already have a telephone.”

“Yes sir. But now, with your modem, you can connect to computers all over the world.”

“That movie, Colossus, the Forbin Project, where the U.S. and Soviet supercomputers link up and seize the reigns of power, can I do that?”

“No, but you can send files and messages.”

Obviously world domination was not my destiny. But being online was, because the day after I got my system, a fellow traveler gave me the phone number of a jazz BBS. A jazz what? I quickly learned it was a computer system set up as a public service to receive phone calls and serve as a hub for those like-minded folk who wanted to communicate this new and unique way.

Within a few weeks I was calling the jazz BBS two or three times a day, taking part in cyber-discussions with people I’d never met face-to-face and sending them e-mail as well. This simple text exchange of messages between aficionados rather intrigued me. As fate would have it, these were my baby steps on the information superhighway.

In December of ‘94, I purchased a program called Internet in a Box and with some degree of difficulty, finally logged onto the World Wide Web. The Web was actually hatched in ‘91, when Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau conceived its underlying structure, “hypertext,” which enabled Web authors to link and combine words, pictures and sounds. There were only a couple thousand sites when I started surfing that December day, including Jazz Online but already, it was big fun.

Joe Vella, Jazz Online’s godfather, reports that he first started JOL as a BBS system in the Bay area in 1991 because “I was a frustrated jazz consumer not getting enough information from jazz magazines and the radio. The objective was to create an interactive network of jazz fans, enthusiasts, and other consumers, where we could trade ideas and release suggestions.” Within a few months, JOL had a community of nearly three thousand regular users.

As the Web became available worldwide in ’93, fan pages devoted to a favorite artists were born. Canadian Gord McGonigal put up a Don Ellis page which is still on the Web (http:// www.mbnet.mb.ca/~mcgonig/donellis.html). McGonigal set up the site because he wanted to “keep Don’s memory alive; his music touched me deeply. It’s a small thing I can do to give something back to him in return. It costs nothing to maintain. In fact, it pays me in the form of e-mails from many interesting people including former band musicians, roadies, authors, etc. Many people write to thank me for keeping Don’s music alive on the Web.”

In 1993, the WNUR-FM Jazz Web, a user-built volunteer project fathered by Joe Germuska, became the first site to put up a comprehensive index of the other jazz sites, along with some content of its own. It’s still on the Web (http://www.acns.nwu.edu/jazz/) and remains an invaluable resource. The first commercial jazz Web site was Jazz Online (www.jazzonline.com), which, after 3 years as a BBS, made its debut on the Web in mid-’94. “At that stage, none of the labels had their own Web sites,” explains Vella. “So we put up a lot of marketing pages for CDs. And because we kept our objectives realistic, we started making a profit almost from the start.” After just a few months on the Web, JOL had a worldwide base of 14,000 regular users.

The revolution had begun and it wasn’t being televised. “Warp 7, Mr. Sulu”

Fast Forward

As they say in the movies, cut to late 1998, just a hop, skip and a jump to the millennium. Media boundaries are disappearing. On a hundred million monitors worldwide, a new media is emerging, and my daily exploration of this new digital frontier finds me guardedly optimistic.

Leila has become an enchanting young woman surviving adolescence in spite of its modern day complexities. The computer on my desk has also matured, growing infinitely more powerful than my Apple 2E and its 300 baud modem. I’m plugged into the Net via a wireless connection that, when it’s working properly, is practically instantaneous. At near-warp speed, surfing the Net is a revelation. Most sites load within seconds. In fact, it’s so entertaining and full of engaging information that’s I’ve just about given up television, even though I have a satellite dish that offers hundreds of channels.

As I write, the number of jazz sites on the Web grows daily—everything from Jazz Central Station, which has thousands of pages of multimedia content to a single-page fan site that’s just inspired text. Musicians’ sites proliferate. Accordingly, bassist Dave Holland believes that “one of the great things about this phenomenon is the democracy of the Internet and the fact that it’s an equal access thing, meaning that small companies and individual artists can give people access to their work through the Net. That’s never been possible before.”

While pondering the possibilities, I decide to take a break from my deadline-driven duties and see what I can find on the Web today. I’ve only got 10 minutes to spare but remember, I have a very fast connection.

Surf's Up

For starters, I need some music to surf by so I jump over to the Web site of WWOZ, a listener-supported, volunteer-operated, radio station located in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. It’s one of the growing number of radio stations broadcasting live on the Web via Real Audio. The audio stream begins and it’s Gene Ammons playing “Easy to Love,” larger than life. Ammons had a huge and immediately recognizable tone on tenor and hearing him coming through the monster speaker system I have hooked up to my computer is a pleasure, even though this is a mono broadcast. The quality of Real Audio on the Web varies but version 5.0 is nearing FM quality stereo (some broadcasts are in mono, others in stereo). Accordingly, Web radio has grown from 178 stations in 32 countries in August 1996, to more than 1,500 stations on the Net by mid-1988.

In addition to radio broadcasts, there are two New York clubs that feature regular live performance broadcasts. I jump over to the Blue Note site (http://bluenote.net/live/) and on their archive page, decide to check out a few minutes of Joe Zawinul’s last appearance at the club last year. The video sucks, but the sound comes through loud and clear. While Zawinul’s Syndicate perform their unique amalgam of world music and jazz, I jump over to the Knitting Factory site to find out who’s playing there tonight. (Once the Real Audio stream begins, it plays while you continue to surf the Web.)

Live broadcasts in both Real Audio and Video are a nightly feature from the Knitting Factory site. Michael Dorf, Knit honcho, reports that “the Knitting Factory club was the first club in the world to build a Web site and it now generates more traffic than the club itself. If I could only sell them all a drink online, I’d be richer! We get approximately 35,000 unique visitors each month to the site. In addition to streaming our concerts nightly from the main stage, we now are creating broadband-programming with Cablevision for the cable modem subscribers in Long Island, and see the Net as a way to reach our fans around the world.”

But how will those fans find the site? There are so many jazz sites on the Web today, and new ones constantly arriving, that finding them can be rather daunting. In search of something new, I stop by the Mining Company’s Jazz area. It’s a TV Guide listing for jazz on the web.

Russ Neff, the jazz guide on the Mining Company, updates his links weekly, providing features as well and reports that his criteria for listing a site are the quality and depth of information. I don’t want to send folks to a site with little more than some flashy graphics. I also try to avoid sites which only want to sell you something. I especially like a site which gives me a sense of the personality behind it. I feel that I’m more like a restaurant reviewer than I am a tour guide. If a site has worthwhile information but is poorly organized or slow loading I’ll say just that.

“As an example, the Montreal Jazz Festival site had vital information, but was impossible to navigate and on anything less than a 21” screen was impossible to read. I featured the site on my front page for the 12 days of the festival with a warning that the site had problems.”

This week, one of Russ’ links features a Web jazz magazine, All About Jazz, one of a growing number of such electronic publications. Remembering the site’s audio reviews, I decide to visit. Created by Michael Ricci and a cast of contributors, the site is informative and presents a frequently updated collection of jazz history, CD reviews, interviews, and fun tidbits about the music. What I’m here for are the audio reviews, produced by the Enso Jazz Review, a company out in Seattle. Instead of just reading about a CD, and then listening to a sound clip or two, these audio reviews integrate the music into the review, a most effective utilization of the medium. Today’s review features Cedar Walton’s new Art Blakey tribute, Bambino.

For a European perspective, I call up the Web site, Culture Kiosque (http://www.culturekiosque.com/jazz/index.htm), which I’ve bookmarked because I’m a frequent visitor. A weekly cybermagazine from France that’s available in several languages, their jazz edition includes a series of erudite articles on jazz by Mike Zwerin, now the jazz writer at the International Herald Tribune. Mike is a trombonist who played with Miles on some of the Birth of the Cool sessions and also served as the jazz writer for Village Voice in the late ’60s. He’s got a running series on the site called “Sons of Miles,” and each week he profiles a different Davis sideman. This week, the subject is John McLaughlin. Zwerin’s perspective, informed by his own experience with Miles, makes for great reading. Unlike some of the other jazz sites, where the articles are just too damn long, Zwerin only writes what is necessary. Nothing more, nothing less.

My last desination will be Jazz Corner (www.jazzcorner.com), Lois Gilbert’s site that serves as the home of nearly 100 musicians and jazz organizations. She explains that she launched the site on July 1, 1996, because “I wanted to help provide an equal playing field for jazz musicians and organizations at a low cost. My goal was and still is that musicians empower themselves and take control over their own careers—not relying on record companies or radio play or publicists, but generating it themselves.”

I heard Billy Harper play with Randy Weston at the Panasonic Village Jazz Festival recently so I decided to visit his Web site at Jazz Corner and get more information on the tenor saxophonist. After listening to few sounds clips from his latest recording, If Only Hearts Could See, I realize that my 10 minutes of free time have elapsed.

In this 10 minute excursion, I listened to music from a jazz radio station and from an archived set at the Blue Note in New York, checked out the schedule of another club, visited a couple of Web magazines on two continents, hearing an audio CD review and reading about a “Son of Miles,” and learned about an artist’s latest release by visiting his personal site. I’d call that living better through technology, wouldn’t you?

The Numbers

At last count, seventy million Americans have ventured online and, much to the dismay of the television industry, two thirds of them admit to regularly surfing the Net . Thirty percent of American adults use the Net at work, school, or home, while sixty six percent of this country’s teenagers are online. Of those adult surfers, 30% made purchases online last year. The median reported spending amount of online consumers is $300.

Yet with all the jazz activity on the Net, how many people are actually visiting jazz sites? The largest jazz Web site, Jazz Central Station, part of the Music Boulevard Network and now in its third year, reports thousands of visitors daily, as does the Jazz Corner. Joe Vella says that Jazz Online, the longest running commercial jazz site, “has a user base that maxes out at around 100,000, but is still growing.” Yet a simple fan page might draw only a few hundred visitors yearly, a musician’s thousands. Marketing and content account for the difference in user traffic.

Who are these users?

When one group of users first gets on the Web, it’s a revelation. These people stay up all night and for days on end, glued to their computers. Then, the obsession fades, although e-mail remains a daily activity. Instead of spending hours a day on the Web, these users will then go online when they’re looking for something specific, like travel research, to find out who’s playing at a jazz festival, or to buy a CD.

Then there’s another group, the people who have a reasonably fast connection through work or school and a little technical savvy. These are the folks who use the Web with more regularity. They’re the ones who become part of communities on the Net, taking a more active role, joining discussions, and chatting in a group or one-to-one.

This bringing together of strangers is one of the Net’s real strengths. It’s one big planetary jam session, using text, audio, and video.

Enter the marketers, the money men, the entrepreneurs. From their perspective, this unprecedented ability to reach out to and track interconnected consumers is a modern-day equivalent of the California gold rush. These people aren’t thinking about sharing information and using the Net as a medium for ideas, they have another goal. Big bucks and power.

A report released this summer by Forrester Research expects the online retail market to mushroom from $4.8 billion in sales in 1998 to more than $17 billion in 2001. On the Net today, aside from pornographers, and a select group of sites with mega traffic, such as Yahoo or CNN, who can sell advertising profitably, the only businesses making real money are merchants. Online CD retailer CD Now has “gone from $387 a month when we started four years ago, to 11 million dollars last quarter,” reports President and CEO Jason Olim, adding, “jazz and blues account for 10% of that.”

A 44-million-dollar yearly gross may sound substantial but the daily operating costs of the on-line store CD Now or its toe-to-toe competitors Amazon, Music Boulevard, and Borders are staggering. The necessary funds to bankroll the technology and content requirements of these enterprises could easily bankrupt a third world country. Consequently, on today’s Internet, even a money maker like CD Now barely breaks even. Tomorrow, that’s a whole different story. That’s where the money men are placing their bets. But when will the Net truly become a medium of commerce?

No one can predict the exact scenario for the future development and usage of the Net. One thing is for sure—for the Net to become a mass medium, it has to be as fast as cable television, and just as easy to use. Modern man is not known for his patience. Some say it will take five years, others say ten.

Just over the horizon, cable modems and a new technology called ASDL that makes faster transmission over existing phone lines possible, will gives users more bandwidth, a.k.a. speed. But the next giant leap forward won’t really take place until the development and implementation of Internet 2, a much more powerful network that will make point-to-point real-time video transmission commonplace. That’s when the computer will be integrated into the home entertainment center and people in downtown Tel Aviv will be able to pay a few shekels and enjoy a live set from the Village Vanguard.

For now, there exists an ideal vehicle for the dissemination of information about, and propagation of America’s homegrown art form. I believe the real challenge that the jazz industry and aficionados face is how to best utilize this resource to build a new audience of listeners.

A number of existing jazz sites claim to be beginner-friendly. The online CD stores in particular offer all kinds of recommendations and classifications for neophyte buyers. But in reality, there is not one Web site that offers an effective introduction to the music, a multi-media beginners guide written for the non-jazz lover.

Two-thirds of the teenagers in this country are hooked up to the Web. My own daughter uses the Web. She grew up with the music and knows all about Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane from her dad. But her teenage friends, reared on MTV and video games, have never even heard jazz. How to reach these young people? How to get their attention? How to reach to so many others who would love this music if they could just hear it?

Artist Sites

A search for jazz artists on Yahoo results in a list that includes 1577 sites. That includes sites set up by individual artists, a few high-profile artist sites bankrolled by major labels or online CD stores, and fan sites.

Miles Davis is all over the Web. There are 20 Miles Davis sites, including an official site (www.milesdavis.com) where users can create their own CD compilation of his Prestige recordings. All of the major online CD stores report he is their best-selling jazz artist as well.

Most jazz artists initiate their own sites. Some pay for creation and maintenance. Others take a hands-on approach, programming and updating their sites themselves. There are stand alone musicians sites, such as www.jamesmoody.com, or hubs of artists sites, the largest being Jazz Corner, where nearly 100 New York based musicians and jazz organizations are based.

D.D. Jackson (www.ddjackson.com):

“On the most basic level, the Web can serve as a repository of material on you. As Internet access becomes more ubiquitous, the convenience of telling someone interested in you to check out ‘ddjackson.com’ is obvious. On my site, people hear CD excerpts, read my bio, reviews, my thoughts on things, find out my itinerary, and ultimately contact me if they’re interested in booking me.”

Dave Holland (www.daveholland.com):

“It gives me a chance to communicate with people out there who are interested in what I’m doing. It also gives them an opportunity to get in touch with me through e-mail, and allows me to get their feedback, which is very interesting and enlightening, hearing from people in far away places, places where we haven’t been to play. I get e-mail from Bosnia, places where the music means a lot, like in Russia. Their suggestions and perspectives are beneficial.”

Steve Coleman (www.m-base.com):

“Through my Web site, I have found interviewers don’t ask the same questions all the time because they can pick up the basic information from the Web page...it also gives me a better feel for what people hear in the music.”

Madeline Eastman (www.madelineeastman.com):

“On the Web I’m able to flesh out who I am as an artist and a person. And I love the fact that I can get a much better sense of who’s out there listening to my music. Not the drunken ‘hey man, you sound great’ on the gig...but thoughtful feedback from people who may have been to shy to come up to me on a gig.”

Robin Eubanks (www.jazzcorner.com/eubanks.html):

“My site is more valuable to me now than ever before and it’s been up for a year and a half...it creates a forum for dialogue with people. Many people express their gratitude at having access to musicians that they listen to...in short, I’m getting lots of work, interaction, and information because of my site. The good thing is, it’s not too late for anyone that doesn’t have one, to get one, and I highly encourage it.”

Mel Martin (www.melmartin.com):

“I view the most important function of a Web site as being an open publishing forum. Prior to the Internet as we know it, I was published as a writer through certain publications, my promo and bio material had to be professionally printed, and I had to do snail mailings for local gigs and generally spend more time and money than I would have liked.

“Now I can direct interested parties to my site, send out e-mails for gigs, book gigs via e-mail, and publish any content I wish such as saxophone and educational material and links, photos, sheet music, sound and video clips, rants, and even raves. Also, I am involved in a number of ongoing endorsement situations and find that featuring their links and logos helps them and me.”

Hal Galper (www.upbeat.com/galper):

“My site has all the standard communication and information attributes common to most musicians’ sites. I don’t have a lot of bells and whistles as I want it to be user friendly. What is of most interest to me is my ‘Biz Talk’ and ‘Rants & Raves’ pages. These pages are my chance to give something back to the jazz community that has given me so much. In ‘Biz Talk,’ I can offer some of the information I’ve learned from booking my trio about various aspects of the music business that can’t be found elsewhere.

“I also come from a school of thought that believes that it’s the musicians themselves, not the critics, who have to uphold the standards of the music. Since the industry doesn’t seemed inclined to police itself, I get the chance in ‘Rants and Raves’ to express my unasked-for and ill-considered opinions about whatever crimes against jazz take my fancy. To me that’s the beauty of the Internet, it’s the personification of the term ‘grass roots.’ It’s a true democracy where individual actions can create mass movements to achieve common goals, almost like what happens in a jazz group.”

Label Sites

Jazz record labels are using the Web for promotion, marketing, and sales. The results of a search for “jazz record labels” on Yahoo produced a list of 229 sites.

Does having a Web site make difference?

Madeline Eastman, of Mad-Kat Records, a self-described “one-of-a- kind indie jazz vocal label” (www.kittymargolis.com/madkat/madkat.html), believes that the Net has the potential to level the playing field between independent labels and major conglomerates. “As the co-owner of an independent record label, I find we are able to reach a much wider audience. Our sales have risen dramatically, especially to places where our distribution may not be as strong. As artists we are no longer at the mercy of the larger record companies. I think music in general is taking a much more eclectic turn because we aren’t prisoners of the record companies’ narrow opinions of what constitutes valuable music.”

Russ Gershon, of Accurate Records (www.accuraterecords.com) reports that his label Web site has yet to make a difference but is “somewhat hopeful that it will eventually help.” He looks forward to digital distribution, believing “it should be good for us and for any other ‘niche’ types of music. The difficulty of getting and keeping stock in enough retail stores is painfully apparent to me, and both Internet stores and the Internet itself do not have the problem of limited shelf-space. Also, the growing prevalence of down-loading instead of buying product will help capital-poor companies, to some extent.

“The ‘problem’ for the jazz consumers regarding new artists now is that there are so many credible looking and sounding jazz cds out there that it’s hard to know what to buy. The ability of anyone to market on the Internet will only make that worse. However, easy sampling and downloading should give people a better way to decide to take a chance on new products. On the other hand, getting people to one’s site, and spending one’s time there will be a challenge, cause of course the big boys will be using their big bucks to get people to their sites.”

Warner Bros. Jazz Space (www.wbjazz.com) is the most frequently updated and user friendly major label site, changing its interface regularly.

Randall Kennedy, Vice President of Jazz Sales and Marketing, runs the site and reports that “changes in the interface are predicated on our need to feel graphical change or correct/simplify navigation; we try not to be slaves to technology unless it’s a real advance that makes the artists and their releases look or sound better in our site.

“I can tell from the correspondence I get from our site (and I get and answer all of it; this doesn’t go to some vague mask for answering once a month) that people are being introduced to jazz from our site and others. The increasingly perilous state of jazz radio (not one commercial jazz station in the U.S.) makes this hands-on avenue to the music and info a must for reaching the consumer.”

The most comprehensive and easy to use label Web site with a multitudinous catalog belongs to Fantasy Records (www.fantasyjazz.com), which debuted in February of 1996. Terri Hinte, the label’s veteran publicist who also manages the site explains that “Fantasy has such a large and varied catalog that it’s always been very difficult to present a coherent and comprehensive picture of what the company is about. The Web site has greatly simplified things, in that visitors can immediately see what the new releases are, what’s available by a given artist or in a particular genre, where artists are touring, and so on. It’s also opened up useful channels of communication (via e-mail) between the label and the public, who praise, complain, inquire, and request. “

Hinte is also certain that “the site has been a boost in both marketing and sales. Although we’re not yet equipped with a secure server, we are taking a respectable number of orders over the Web (via a faxed order form). In addition, we know that people consult the new releases page and then go to their local outlets because we hear from them if the records are not in the stores. (We then contact the appropriate distributor regarding the problem.)

“But the biggest marketing boon for us has been the presence online of the complete Fantasy catalog. It’s a reference and research guide that’s always available, a big cyber-billboard advertising our wares 24 hours a day.”

Broadcasting on the Internet

When the Web first arrived, listening to sound files meant lengthy downloads. To hear a 30 second clip, a user had to endure a two-to-five minute wait. Real Audio, or streaming technology, changed that. With Real Audio, sound transmission became immediate. In addition to playing sound files from CDs, it became possible to broadcast live on the Net.

At first, Real Audio was the equivalent of a cheesy AM radio. But each subsequent version has improved and with Real Audio 5.0, the audio quality mirrors a standard FM stereo broadcast. Real Video is also available, but because of the limited bandwidth, or speed of any transmission, video on the Net is one of its real weak points (for now).

The just-published Passport to Web Radio, lists more 550 stations from more than 100 countries that pump out music, news and more over the Internet. Larry Magne, the book’s editor predicts that nearly every radio station will be on the Web in three to five years. What Web radio needs to pull even with conventional radio, Magne believes, are low-cost, portable, wireless connections to the Net, which he expects in five to ten years. “It’s coming,” he exclaims. “It’s absolutely coming.”

The first full-time jazz radio station to broadcast live over the Net was WBGO-FM (www.wbgo.org), from Newark, NJ, serving the greater New York metropolitan area. In 1997, the station began Real Audio broadcasts on Jazz Central Station.

Cephas Bowles, WBGO’s affable station manager, believes that “through the Web, WBGO has moved from a local platform to a worldwide stage. It has introduced new audiences to WBGO and, in return, has received many financial contributions. The Web has made the station more significant and helped fill the void in many communities where classic jazz radio is non-existent.”

The number of classic jazz stations broadcasting live on the Net is growing and now includes: Jazz FM from London (http://www.jazzfm.com/radioindex.html), which offers a nice mix of classic and contemporary jazz and a well designed Web site, KCSM (www.kcsm.org) from San Mateo, California, and WWOZ (http://www.radio.audionet.com/radio/Jazz/WWOZ/) from New Orleans. Jim Wilke’s Jazz After Hours (www.kuow.org/jazz), which also has an excellent Web site, can be heard live Friday and Saturday nights at midnight Central time via KSLU (www.audionet.com/college/kslu). There’s also no shortage of smooth jazz stations as well.

Minneapolis based Net Radio (www.netradio.com) delivers original programming on the Web offering 150 audio channels, including 10 jazz formats such as Café Jazz, Acid Jazz, Big Band Jazz, Classic Crooners, Divas, Lounge, Horns, and Smooth Jazz. Programs run approximately one hour and change monthly. Information about featured artists can be found on the Net Radio Web site and the site has an online CD store, CD Point, as well. A daily five-minute Jazz notes audio program is also available.

Bill Creswell, Project Manager and Creative Director for Jazz at Net Radio, explains that they have so many jazz formats because “we can afford to be narrowcast on Net. We can be a lot more niche-oriented. Consequently, we’re here to play music that offers a wide variety and deeper playlist.” A real advantage of doing this on the Net instead of traditional broadcast channels is because “it’s a lot less costly than running an actual radio station.”

Not surprisingly, feedback has been both global and positive. “Listening to music on the Web is something people can do in the office or at home. That’s an important part of the radio paradigm, it can be in the background, or your focus. With the Web, you can find out who’s playing, more about it, and actually buy the music as well.”

At NetRadio, diversity is key: “We can do a show on Frank Zappa, his jazz phase, and because we’re trying to embrace everything from Dixieland to avant garde, have a channel devoted to Ornette for a month as well.”

In addition to programming, the Net now also serves as a vehicle for event broadcasts as well. New York’s Knitting Factory has been sending out nightly performances from its main space over the Web for nearly two years. The experience leads Knit honcho Michael Dorf to believe that pay-per-view Web broadcasts are on the horizon.

He explains that “Charles Gayle has a small but devoted live audience. Perhaps only 75 people will come to the Knitting Factory for his concert, but the club cybercasts to 25 diehard fans in Stuttgart, Germany, 13 people in Singapore, 45 in Chicago, and so on, allowing a total of 1000 people to experience the performance.”

“As the quality improves, the online patron will be able to enjoy a scaleable, pay-per-view experience. So while 1.5 million may pay $49.95 to see Mike Tyson, 1000 people will pay $2.95 to see Charles Gayle play his ass off. Fans can also purchase T-shirts, hats, new and old CD releases, and archived live concerts with the click of a mouse. It’s not the perfect substitute for being there, but online concerts will expand Charles Gayle’s reach, help him develop his audience and influence new fans to come see him perform in their town."

Communities

The predominant interactive jazz communities on the Net are the Usenet Newsgroup rec.music.bluenote, and the JazzTalk BBS area of Jazz Central Station. Thousands read and hundreds post new messages worldwide on these bulletin boards daily.

To get an idea of who populates these communities, and their feelings about how jazz on the Web has affected them, I posted a message on the JCS Jazz-Talk BBS requesting answers to the following questions: How has jazz benefitted from a site like Jazz Central Station? Have you ever been turned on to a CD or artist through JCS and/or the Web in general, and then gone to a performance or purchased a CD as a result of that? Through this JazzTalk BBS, do you feel more a part of the global jazz community? What would you like to see on JCS and on the Web in the future?

Here’s a sampling of the responses I received, several within minutes of my original post:

David Wilmington (mlf8@ acpub.duke.edu) reports that “I’d never heard of Myra Melford before posting and reading here—when she came to Duke University. I made a point of buying tickets. I’ve also bought CDs by Mal Waldron, Rodney Kendrick, and David Murray based on recommendations from people here and Web reviews. I’d never heard of DD Jackson before JCS—I drove from NC to NYC to see him and hang out with other JCS folks. Dan Cross, another user, took a bus down from Canada!”

As for being part of the community, Wilmington “was glad to see the amount of interest, passion, and energy surrounding the jazz world. It’s great to hear from the New York folks as well as fans in Florida, Canada, and other countries. One of the best aspects is input from musicians (like DD Jackson) through posts or chats and critics/authors (like Chris Albertson). And the contacts for selling and buying instruments also pay off.”

Darryl G. Thomas (dgthomas@digizen.net) believes that through the Web, “from an information point of view, fans are kept current about jazz happenings. But I don’t think it’s expanded the jazz audience because people who are into jazz would seek out a site like JCS but non-fans would probably not.”

Canadian Dan Cross (dcross@icom.ca), who has his own site for Canadian musicians called Central Park North (http://www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/5580), feels that “JCS provides an opportunity for the little guy to be seen, particularly in the bulletin board area. The jazz marketing machine unfortunately neglects to promote many great artists whose appeal may not be as broad as some of the more mainstream musicians. The bulletin boards offer fans an opportunity to inform others with similar tastes about players who have been ignored by the majority of the jazz media.”

As for the community, Cross reports that “during a recent trip to New York City, I found it quite shocking to come to terms with the fact that many things I’ve posted while sitting at home in my underwear people actually read and remembered. I regularly receive e-mails regarding my posts on JCS, some from ‘industry insiders’ and musicians whom I admire and respect.”

Steve Reynolds (monk5by5@aol.com) also learned of new music through the community, finding that, “what the site has done, more than anything, is to reinvigorate my interest in the music to an extent that I could not have imagined before last December.”

Reynolds also subscribes to the community concept: “I could not have been less of a part of it before—as none of my friends like jazz, except one whose interest is marginal at best—and this site has allowed me to meet many of the other participants, and also allows my strong views to be heard by at least a few people—views that had previously been in a vacuum to a great extent. And as I had expected, they differed from many in the community, but there are many who embrace at least part of what I believe in and care about, which is the current state and future of jazz. That has been more than gratifying.”

For outsiders, though, these communities can be a double-edged sword. A user named Reid (rtt5@gte.net) feels that these forums for discussion both “help and harm jazz. It helps because it turns people on to new musicians. I’ve discovered musicians that I would never have here at this site. On the other hand, I think if your musical tastes don’t fit into this community, you can easily be turned away from the music.”

Online CD Stores

The online marketplace for CD sales is a battlefield. E-commerce is multiplying and a lot of companies want a piece of what is already a multimillion-dollar pie.

Philadelphia-based CDnow was the first online CD store and Jason Olim, its founder, expects the company to “continue to dominate the market.” Last quarter, CDnow reported a loss of $0.55 a share, but an almost 300% increase in revenues.

Olim has no shortage of competition including Amazon, the most successful online bookstore now selling CDs, and N2K’s Music Boulevard. Borders, a jazz retail destination of choice for many consumers, has recently launched their online store, and Tower Records, another major retailer, has a site as well. Besides the big boys, there are more than a hundred other online stores selling CDs. Many artists and record label sites sell CDs online as well.

“At Amazon, our customers tell us we’re faster, easier to navigate, and have better information on CDs. One thing our competitors don’t have is user reviews. We invite users to post their reviews and we know from talking to our customers that they appreciate the diversity of opinions.”

Rick Vanzura, Senior Vice President of Electronic Commerce and Fulfillment, Borders: “In the physical world, what sets us apart is a dominant presence in jazz retailing so once the decision was made, it was only logical that we sell CDs online as well. So what’s going to differentiate us from our competitors is that we’re expanding on the strength of our jazz retailing, and also our back end fulfillment of the product. We have the most complete inventory of anybody in the world and we are filling orders directly from that. Over time, that will afford us more opportunities for discounts. So overall, we’re providing value, and that’s what the customer responds to.

“As far as the reluctance of some consumers to use a credit card on the Web, I think that’s breaking down and it’s going to be a case of word of mouth and more and more articles showing how safe the Web really is, This problem we’re going to have largely grown out of in three or four years. We’re going to reach the crossover point soon where people won’t be worried about this invisible bogeyman.”

Digital Distribution

Today, most of music for sale on the Net is ordered via a Web site, such as an online CD store, artist, or label site, and then shipped via mail, UPS or overnight courier. But there are several Web sites actually distributing music digitally, meaning that the user downloads a file directly to computer. The music is then played on the computer, or, if user is so equipped, the file can actually be burned onto a CD.

Emod, part of N2K’s Music Boulevard Network, debuted in 1997, distributing individual tracks by such artists as Chick Corea and Paquito D’Rivera. Emod utilized Liquid Audio technology for CD quality audio distribution and a special digital watermark that eliminated the threat of piracy.

Another audio distribution format and one adopted by a number of new sites is MP3. An MP3 file is an audio file that uses MPEG Audio Layer 3 compression, which allows music to be compressed by a factor of 10 with virtually no loss in quality from the original CD. If you copy a three-minute song from CD onto your hard drive, it will take up about 30MB. In Mp3 format, it only occupies 3MB of space.

Part of the problem with this format is that many music execs have waged a war against MP3, citing piracy concerns. MP3 has become popular among online CD pirates, who trade songs online and burn their own CDs with relatively cheap hardware, without paying the record companies a dime. As a result, most record companies refuse to adopt MP3 as a standard and limit their online distribution to singles.

Once the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) MUSE project completes its listening tests and recommends a specific watermarking technology to control unauthorized music copying and trace pirated digital music, the market for digitally delivered music should begin to explode.

It won’t be an overnight transition. Obvious bandwidth issues aside, music consumers must overcome insecurities about e-commerce and become accustomed to dealing with a new shopping experience. Ultimately, online music delivery offers advantages consumers will like: low prices, convenience, free promotional music, and sitting in their living rooms. Taking into account that the not-so-distant future of high-speed cable modems and telecom Internet hook-ups with lightning speed, it’s easy to see why so many companies and individuals are pondering how this development will affect the world of Jazz.

The Knitting Factory’s Michael Dorf believes that “new music created digitally will be sold based on the amount of bits or time desired, truly a price-per-minute valuation. A famous, more recognized, brand-name artist might sell their music for 20 cents per minutes or about $12 for 60 minutes of music, while a new and emerging artist might sell their music for 5 cents per minute to gain market exposure.

“In the current system of marketing music, every CD in the rack is priced close to the same basic price, whether it is the cherished recordings of John Coltrane or Miles Davis, or the latest release by an esoteric group that performs at the Knit. But people don’t pay $13.98 per chicken at the butcher regardless of size and quality. They pay by two factors, quality or reputation of the brand, and the amount or weight of the product. For music as a commodity in the digital economy, the old system no longer makes any sense.”

With a scale pricing strategy, the label and artist can embark on a new partnership in marketing, promoting, and distributing the music in a way that will reward both the music and the music fans more fairly than before. The savings from not having to physically produce and ship the CDs to stores alone, will alter the economics in favor of both the artist and consumer.”

Saxophonist Mel Martin believes “we are going to be witnessing a major change in the way music will be distributed. The technology is already here and I think that the potential of the Internet has just been scratched. Targeting niche markets seems to be the direction in which we are headed and the Internet certainly opens direct paths to that.”

“I have a mixed bag of concerns, though, as I would not like to see the idea of entire albums or collections go by the wayside in favor of people just downloading single tracks. Or how about the possibility or remix capability? That’s a scary thought! On the other hand, it may make for a far more accurate system of getting paid correctly and also allow us to market our work directly to the public. With the cost of recording equipment and CD production having come down so much, it’s now possible to record and manufacture your own CDs and market them over the Internet. Downloading them eliminated even more costs. I think that we are living in a very interesting era where the old and, frankly, tired paradigms are falling rapidly.”

A number of small labels that only distribute digitally have already started to spring up on the Web and they could easily pose a serious threat to traditional record labels. Because of the Internet’s far reach, an upstart online record label wouldn’t have to spend years developong relationships with wholesalers and record shops to get its business going.

With just a few sites offering digital distribution and such market potential, it comes as no surprise that big companies like ATT&T are preparing to enter the market in a major way. Ma Bell’s a2b music unit, RealAudio and Liquid Audio also have been developing software. They plan to make money by selling the technology to the traditional music companies.

Eventually, kicking and screaming, and cursing all the way to the cash machine, the music industry will be dragged into digital distribution. And to their current disbelief, ultimately, it will be a very positive thing for everyone.

Originally published in December 1998

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